A Walk in the Park ... Anytime; Dumbarton Oaks Gardens Offers Riot of Color and Culture

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 12, 2003 | Go to article overview

A Walk in the Park ... Anytime; Dumbarton Oaks Gardens Offers Riot of Color and Culture


Byline: Gabriella Boston, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, a 16-acre oasis right smack in the middle of Georgetown, is a nice alternative for those who long for walks outdoors but can't go to area parks in the wake of Isabel's destruction.

The gardens are open year-round and have lots of natural beauty and varying architectural and hardscape features, including nine fountains, a pebble garden, mosaics and a swimming pool.

"Kids seem to especially enjoy the water features, the pool and the fountains," says Gail Griffin, superintendent for gardens and grounds.

Children also enjoy running and playing in the open space, although technically, visitors should try to stay on the paths, Mrs. Griffin says.

The gardens are built on a slope - stairs and winding paths bring the visitor to the various terraces and "garden rooms" of this green haven. Although the slope can be a bit strenuous, at every turn of the path there is a wooden, marble or stone bench, perfectly and privately located in one of the garden rooms.

Hedges and architectural features such as walls and fountains, often with stone cherubs as their centerpieces, help create these enclosed sanctuaries.

"I love the contrast of the closeness of these rooms - very private - and the openness of the sky," Mrs. Griffin says.

The garden is designed and planted to offer something visually interesting in each season. Even the winter is a pretty time at Dumbarton Oaks, whose name alludes to the property's many oak trees, she says.

"But now is one of my favorite times of year," Mrs. Griffin says. "The borders are so massive, full of asters and chrysanthemums."

The chrysanthemums come in red, orange and yellow in some areas, and in pink and purple in others.

The "borders" are flower beds that line the brick and stone paths that snake through the estate. Also blooming in October are mums and salvia.

In the spring, tulips replace the fall flowers in the borders. Also in the spring, cherry trees and dogwoods bloom, and in the summer, the rose garden - with at least 1,000 roses - explodes with color and fragrance.

These lavish gardens surround a 19th century mansion, once owned by super wealthy Robert and Mildred Bliss. Mrs. Bliss, together with landscape gardener Beatrix Farrand, designed the vast garden.

The Blisses were also avid art, antique and artifact collectors. So, once visitors have had enough of the garden (if that's possible) they can head into the museum portion of the estate, which includes a collection of Byzantine artifacts and Renaissance art. A collection of pre-Columbian art is currently not open to the public.

The museum is housed in additions made to the 19th century Federal-style mansion that the Blisses bought in 1920. …

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